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Peace for Whom? Institutionalization of Gender Inequality in Burma’s Reforms

By Swedish Burma Committee  •  May 26, 2015

Introduction

Conflicts tend to exacerbate gender inequalities. Burma/Myanmar is no exception. The low level of women’s participation in public reform processes, such as in the ceasefire negotiations and political deliberations at both local and national levels, can be partly explained by women’s vulnerability to and experience of violence. This, coupled with poor access to socio-economic rights and justice, restrict women’s ability to participate in public life, including the upcoming elections (True 2012).
Ceasefire periods open up opportunities to address these issues. Yet, unless women are granted full and substantial participation from the very beginning, experience shows that opportunities will be lost, resulting in reform initiatives that will not reflect the needs of women. If women are denied access to justice mechanisms, political dialogue, and socio-economic services, their vulnerability to violence and exclusion from decision-making will endure in peacetime (True 2010).
When neither the international community nor local power holders question and critique such exclusionary practices, the violations of women’s human rights are in effect sanctioned. This means that the efforts of local women’s groups to challenge and overcome gender inequality will be severely hampered, resulting in the institutionalization of exclusionary practices in a post-conflict Myanmar.

Background

In August 2011, President Thein Sein initiated a national peace plan for reconciliation with the country’s many ethnic non-state armed groups. A number of new government institutions were formed by the government to work on this peace plan, such as the Union Level Peace Team, made up of a Central Committee responsible for designing policies related to ceasefires, and a Working Committee responsible for implementing the policies designed by the Central Committee, as well as the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC), which coordinates the government’s peace activities and reports directly to the Office of the President (Hedström 2013). These institutions are dominated by men, with women occupying less than 2 % of strategically important positions across these three institutions.

The ethnic armed groups have similarly excluded women from participating in the peace dialogue in any substantial way. There is, for example, only one woman in the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a joint committee of representatives of armed ethnic groups formed in 2013 to agree on a common position on the peace process in negotiations with the government (Myanmar Peace Monitor 2014). When women have been included in the negotiations, it has been for a limited number of meetings or as observers and technical advisors, not as negotiators with the power to influence proceedings throughout the process.
In late March 2015, agreement to work on a nationwide ceasefire draft was reached between the NCCT and the UPWC. Although important, this did not represent the signing of a finalised ceasefire agreement, which remains contentious, but is rather an agreement to continue working on the drafting of the ceasefire (Burma Partnership 2015). The agreement then remains a working draft. Women’s groups have lobbied for influence here but have been told gender issues need to wait until after the ceasefire agreement has been signed (Wai Hnin Po 2015).

Read the full briefing paper here

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